Lebanon: The Gathering Storm

Andrew McConnell

Over 20 years after the end of Lebanon's devastating civil war which made its capital Beirut synonymous with wanton destruction and urban devastation, the country is once again seeing flaring sectarian tensions, fanned by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.~~Lebanon is teetering on the brink. As the civil war continues unabated in Syria, its smaller neighbour is increasingly being sucked into the chaos raging next door. Long subordinate to Damascus, the tiny nation of some 4 million people is as tense now as at any time since the 15 year civil war ended in 1990. Clashes in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni and Alawite factions, which have been intensifying over the past 2 years, have left scores dead and reflect the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict in Syria. In the southern city of Sidon, fighting between Salafist elements and the Lebanese army have left almost 60 dead.

Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist militant group and political party, has confirmed that it is actively involved in the fighting in Syria, raising tensions inside Lebanon and provoking Sunni hardliners. Hezbollah's involvement is widely seen as a battle to maintain an overland link to Iran, its principal backer and supplier of arms. The Bekaa Valley in the country's south is where Hezbollah recruits were first indoctrinated to Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision of political Shiism and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the guardians of Iran's theocracy. Today, rocket fire from opposition Sunni rebels in neighbouring Syria rains down on communities of all creeds in the Bekaa valley with increasingly regularity.~~The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has now surpassed 500,000, and continues to grow rapidly. The influx has put pressure on education and health systems, as well as often scarce natural resources. Wages have fallen throughout the country as Syrian workers willing to accept low paid work flood the market. National elections, due to be held in June 2013, have been postponed until 2014 and a 17-month extension of parliament was voted by parliament after it failed to agree changes to the electoral law. As the war in Syria shows no signs of abating, Lebanon is slowly sliding back to a time most war-weary Lebanese had hoped was gone forever.

 

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